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Ep. 258: How this travel blogger inspires women to get outdoors with Natalie Nealan

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In this episode, I speak with Natalie who is a travel blogger, photographer, and outdoor enthusiast based in beautiful Lake Tahoe, California. 

She started her travel blog Nattie on the Road in 2016, aiming to inspire women to travel and get outdoors. 

Most recently Natalie co-founded a product photography startup called HiAnsel that’s working to streamline product photography as an online service for creative and lifestyle brands.

Listen on to find out how Natalie inspires women to get outdoors.

Listen Below:

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Transcription:

Debbie:

Hey everyone, thank you so much for being here. I’m really excited to speak with my guest today. I’m here with Natalie.

Hey Natalie, how are you?

Natalie:

Good. How are you?

Debbie:

I am fine. Can you tell us about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Natalie:

Yeah, definitely.

So I am a photographer and blogger and in 2016, I quit my job in San Francisco and went traveling with my boyfriend. Eventually, we ended up in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas and now we get to call Lake Tahoe our home base. And I spend my time traveling, being outside and taking photos.

Debbie:

Well, that sounds like an amazing transition that you had and now you’re doing something that you really love. You’re really passionate about it. It’s absolutely creative and you are in a beautiful place right now.

Now, can you tell us what that transition was like for you? I know there are some people that kind of have that sliding doors moment. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched that movie where Gwyneth Paltrow misses the train. When she missed it, her life completely changed, when she did make it, her life was completely different. Did you have that moment in your life too?

Natalie:

Yeah, sort of.

I’d been kind of working an office job for a long time and I thought our big trip around the world was just kind of gonna be a trip. And then while we were traveling, I kind of decided, “This should be a jumping-off point for a career change.”

And I kind of used my travel blog as a way to sort of figure that out. Did I wanna be writing, taking photos, really find what I was passionate about. And now obviously I’m a photographer, so photos have taken precedent and the blog definitely gave me the learning platform to figure that out.

Debbie:

Yeah.

I mean, there are a lot of different things that you can do as a creative: you can do photography, you can do writing, you can do video. There are so many variables that you could have gone into. Why did you choose to do this? Why did you choose out of everything else that you can do in the world?

In my last interview, I was talking to a hypnotist, and like, you’re a photographer. Like, there are so many different things. Like, why choose this one? Why was this for you?

Natalie:

Photography has always been sort of a hobby. I got my first camera in middle school. And it was always just something fun that I enjoyed doing. And I think as I got older and really wanted to hone in on what I wanted to do with my life, I just felt like I could share stories and really provide value through my photography.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Well, and that’s the thing, right? I think once you find that purpose, sometimes you can’t even explain it. It just feels right to you. And then once you start doing it, you just keep doing it and it becomes really addictive. And then you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, this can actually become a career.”

Now for you, Natalie, how did you know that you can actually make this into something that is more sustainable for yourself? For a lot of people, it’s just a hobby, right? But you made this into an actual career, which is really incredible, ’cause it’s one of those things that people tell you is really hard.

“You can’t be an artist. You’re gonna be starving, ” et cetera… But you made that into an actual career.

Natalie:

Yeah.

So going back to my travel blog, Nattie on the Road, like a lot of bloggers, I decided I should try to monetize it. So I started taking on affiliates and sponsored posts. And I realized through doing that, that if companies are sending me free products, the better photos I take of those products, the more clicks they get, and then the more clicks they get, the more cash that comes in.

So I really tried to hone in on that aspect of product photography.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Yeah. I mean, that’s another thing. It’s like you’re learning as you’re going and then you just figure out what really works for you, what your client actually wants. And it’s kind of like a happy medium between the both of you, right?

And it’s like you don’t wanna do something that you hate, you don’t wanna do something that you’re not comfortable with, but you also wanna do something that they’re actually really gonna love.

Natalie:

Yeah, definitely.

And what I’ve found also is just like the more interesting and more captivating a photo is that really brings people in and regardless if you’re trying to sell a product or tell a story, like, the more captivating the photo, the better the reaction.

Debbie:

Yeah.

I find that so interesting because a lot of people are really visual, right? I mean, you have places like Pinterest where a lot of people like you, Natalie, will do really well because people just go there for mostly the photos they wanna be inspired and then you have the blogs.

And then before you even read all of the things that your tips are and where you want people to go, they first get attracted to the image that you’re putting out there because it doesn’t matter how good your tips are, if your photographs are really bad, no one is even gonna notice that, which is unfortunate if you’re not a good photographer or you’re just starting out when that happens.

Natalie:

Yeah.

It is unfortunate. You could have the best caption or best tips written down but if that photo is not eye-catching enough, no one’s gonna click it. So that was also a big driving factor in learning all the ins and outs of what makes a beautiful photo.

Debbie:

So when you decided that you were gonna do this full time and that photography was it, and then you also created your blog, did you have to do any special thing, like take courses on photography, or was this self-taught?

Natalie:

So I’ve taken one photography class, it was in high school. And then I actually, when I’m in university I majored in film, movies basically. So I have some background knowledge of composition and lighting and things like that.

When it comes to like photographing people that has definitely been a learned skill, photographing myself, being in front of the camera for my blog has been a learned skill. I still get super embarrassed when we’re out traveling and I like setting up my tripod to take a photo of myself and there are other people around. But I’ve learned to deal with it.

Debbie:

I know.

It’s kind of funny because you see a lot of those, they’re kind of like there are memes and then there are also even accounts on Instagram where they make fun of people like doing TikTok and do taking photos.

Natalie:

Like the Influencer in the Wild.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Natalie:

I keep waiting to see myself on there

Debbie:

I was like, “Oh my gosh!”

And this is the thing, right? You don’t even know when you’re taking photos of yourself or videos how ridiculous sometimes you look. And I’m like, “Is that how people see me when I’m taking photos?” Sure. It’s like it’s mortifying but hey, if you’re getting paid from that and you’re enjoying yourself, why not?

Natalie:

Exactly. Yeah.

Debbie:

There’s nothing wrong with it. I mean, it’s so hilarious, you just have to make fun of yourself sometimes.

Natalie:

Yeah.

And I definitely, I have to like block the other people out. I’m like, “I can’t,” I just pretend nobody’s there. It’s fine.

Debbie:

That is so funny. I know. And if you’re by yourself and you’re taking photos of yourself and you just have it.

Natalie:

Yeah.

Debbie:

Like, when you have another person there, at least like you have a partner in crime and it doesn’t feel as awkward, but when you’re by yourself, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, just do this quick.”

Natalie:

Yeah.

That’s when it helps to go really early in the morning when not a lot of people are around

Debbie:

Yeah.

And I think that’s the trick of most photographers, most bloggers when they go to certain destinations is just go early. And also if it’s like a highly touristy area, you don’t wanna be in anybody’s way too.

Natalie:

Yeah.

That’s very true. And definitely for the popular spots, going early is good ’cause there are fewer crowds, fewer people in the way. There have definitely been times that I’m like a little bit nervous to like set the camera on the tripod and walk away from it if there are a lot of people around.

Debbie:

Yeah. That’s true. That’s another one too.

So aside from that tip, is there anything else that you feel that you’ve learned from this journey as a photographer and also as a travel blogger when you are creating content on the road that has really helped you make better content?

Natalie:

I’m a very big planner.

So planning out my shoots, planning out the content I want to create like down to the poses I want to do in a photo has been a huge thing for me. Mostly because when you get somewhere and you’re standing there on the spot, like trying to think of a photo to do while there are people around and stuff is happening.

I dunno, myself, I’m not super good at coming up with something great, like right on the spot, like in the moment having that plan and being able to just execute it without having to think too hard has been a game-changer.

Debbie:

Well, I mean, that’s a thing, right? It’s like you have to be organized when you do this because essentially it is your job and you wanna make sure that you’re doing the best.

Are you the type of person, are you the type of planner that has like Google sheets and like you have all of these things or are you just write it down in a note? How do you do that?

Natalie:

I’m definitely just every shoot has its own note. Like my phone is full of separate notes, like just with the date and the location and like some inspiration and all the shots I want to get and like poses I want to do and time of day and all that.

So a Google spreadsheet would probably be more organized, but yeah, mostly just in notes.

Debbie:

Well, sometimes it’s just what you have, right? It’s the most available, it’s easiest and that’s what you have. I can appreciate that ’cause that’s the type of person I am. I’m like, “There’s only a point where I can be too organized or that organized. I’m like, “Not that good.” That is so funny.

So now when you talked about leaving and then what you were doing and then doing this now, you mentioned that you were with your partner. How were you able to do that together? Was it something that you had to do to convince him or was it just kind of an easy thing?

Natalie:

It was pretty easy.

So we’re married now. He’s my husband now, but when we had first started dating, I had mentioned I’d wanted to travel to Asia ’cause I’d never been there before. And I thought that would be like a really cool trip. And he jumped on board immediately and was like, “How do we make this happen?”

And he actually already was working remotely and I had an office job. So his transition was very easy. I had a big change. Like, having to quit my job and figure out a new career. So he has been kind of the rock and his job has always been very stable since he’s been remote for most of his career.

And that’s been awesome ’cause it’s given me the kind of freedom to figure out what I was doing.

Debbie:

So, essentially, was it him who tried to get you to do remote, or who was it?

Natalie:

I mean, I think I wanted to do it myself anyways but it was helpful that he was already working remotely and kind of knew the ropes.

Debbie:

Well, that’s awesome though, because I’ve heard a lot of stories from people where they either had to really convince the person or the other person didn’t wanna do it.

And you had the opposite, you had somebody who actually was doing it already and then you saw firsthand how doable it can be. And it’s much more flexible than just staying in an office. And now because of the pandemic, it’s like almost everybody is remote. We had no choice.

Natalie:

Yeah, exactly.

Debbie:

Yeah.

I mean, and that’s the thing, it’s really interesting how everything changed completely because when I started my podcast when I started my website four years ago, nobody even thought about this, right? I would tell them, “I’m working remotely.” They’re like, “You’re crazy. It’s not sustainable. Are you gonna find a stable job?”

And then all of a sudden, once the pandemic hit, it’s like, “So how do I do this? How can I do this?” ‘Cause it’s become more stable than working in an office, in a cubicle

Natalie:

Yeah.

And they’ve done all these studies now that show that most people are actually more productive while working remotely ’cause you can work at the times of day that work best with your brain and body. And yeah, I actually also have a whole section on my blog about, being a digital nomad and working remotely that I’d started before the pandemic. But then once the pandemic hit, I was like, “Oh, this information – it’s time.”

Debbie:

It’s like, “I’ve been waiting for all of you to clamor in. I have all the content that you need.”

Yeah. I mean, it’s so interesting because if you think about it: when you work in an office when you work at a job that you have to go in, most of the time, you’re there for eight hours. You’re not really working the entire time that you’re there. Sometimes you are talking to a coworker or you are taking your lunch break and a lot of that, just maybe you’re working for five hours instead of eight.

And when you’re at home, you can be so much more focused like you mentioned, Natalie, and it’s just nice to be at home and doing work that way. It’s like, I don’t know, at least for me, some people don’t like it, but…

Natalie:

Yeah. I like it.

And then also I feel like working on the road, I’ve learned to like really carve out like workdays or like half a day here or like a few hours there. And then because of those time constraints, I’m like, “Alright, we have to get this and this and this done in this four-hour period.”

And that becomes so much more productive than like kind of flailing around, like, if you’re in an office and like getting two hours of work done in between meetings and all kinds of other stuff

Debbie:

Yeah.

At least for us, it’s a different lifestyle and I definitely love it because you have more freedom and you have done this where you moved around and then you find yourself in a place where you really feel like you belong. Now you’re in Tahoe, right? And it’s beautiful there.

I’ve never been there, but I’ve seen pictures and I’m like, “Wow, Natalie, I’m jealous.” And that’s another thing it’s like, you can really place yourself in an environment that you can thrive in that you love. And then if you’re a hiker, if you like to be outdoors, you can go out after work, before work, during the weekend. And then before working remotely, you have to take a vacation to do that, right?

Natalie:

Yeah.

Debbie:

When you’re working remotely, you can be there.

Natalie:

Yeah, exactly.

I do like being able to schedule my day around the things that I want to do. I mean, obviously, I’m still scheduling photo shoots, planning stuff, doing the actual work. But if I want to take my lunch break to go snowboard for an hour or two, I can do that too.

Debbie:

I love that.

And it’s really a life that I never thought that we can actually do until the possibility of working remotely has really happened. And I think that’s really beautiful.

So why did you and your husband choose Tahoe to be your base? ‘Cause there’s a lot of places in the world you can work remotely. Why there?

Natalie:

It’s kind of the classic Tahoe story. After our big seven-month trip, we came back to California and thought we’d spend just the winter in Tahoe and snowboard for the season and then continued traveling around. But we couldn’t find a ski lease.

So like just a winter rental for like the ski season and ended up with a year lease. And then we found a really great community here and then bought a house and then just stayed. So we really only supposed to be here for like three months. And now it’s been like five years.

Debbie:

Oh my gosh.

But I love that. It’s like you found your place, you found a home that you really enjoyed. Now, you bought a house there and you can snowboard whenever there’s snow. Anytime. So that’s pretty incredible.

Natalie:

Yeah.

I do love just like the proximity to nature here. Like, I lived in San Francisco a really long time, and like I’ve always liked to hike, but going for a hike when you live in the city is a mission. You have to get outta the city, go find a trail.

And here in Tahoe at the end of our street, we have a trail that goes right up into the mountains.

Debbie:

Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.

I know. My husband and I love to hike. We love being in nature and we literally live in a huge city. We live in New York City. So it’s a huge drive to just go anywhere that’s outside of this big civilization. That’s why I’m like, “Oh my gosh, Natalie, I envy you because that sounds really awesome.”

But yeah. So now, that you are doing this and you have all of these things that you’re able to do for yourself, how do you make this sustainable, especially with the pandemic that has happened as a travel photographer and with your blog, how do you make it work even with all of these things that’s happened right now that’s pretty crazy?

Natalie:

It has definitely been a challenge when the pandemic first hit. I had a big trip planned to South America for a bunch of writing and that all obviously got canceled. Just being able to kind of pivot and like rearrange plans and kind of change up the way I do things.

So focusing more on the digital nomad and working from home aspect for my blog was a big thing. And then also for my photography business, it was less about like sponsored posts on my blog. And I started to transition more into product photography for companies in my little home studio or like just around Tahoe since we weren’t traveling much.

So kind of taking myself out of the photos and just really focusing on the kind of like lifestyle, product photos without the influencer.

Debbie:

Well, it’s really me how people have learned how to pivot and even thrive and grow with something like this, right? Because I think that’s really how you know what you’re capable of when you’re given a huge challenge. I think all of us have been given this huge challenge and it’s really interesting how certain people will work around that.

And with you, now you really put yourself into photography and not as an influencer, but of product photography. How did you transition to that? Did you contact brands that you already knew or was it something that was completely different and you had to kind of really twist yourself to go into that?

Natalie:

It was probably more of a gradual transition. I used a lot of the photos from like my blog and kind of influencer-style photoshoots. Like in my portfolio, starting out and then just like a lot of word of mouth. A friend of a friend had an energy bar company and needed photos and they were our first client.

And then from then, they told somebody else and it’s just been mostly word of mouth. But I think having that base of product photos from my blog and kind of influencer days really helped kind of establish my expertise in the area.

It was something that I could show that I had done for clients before rather than doing case study photo shoots, which are great too because they can show your talent. But If you can show work that you’ve done for a client that they’ve actually used on their social media or a website that was super helpful.

Debbie:

Yeah.

And it’s really great when you have this previous experience and you never went to school for this. This was something that was just a passion project that you turned into a business, and then you were able to go into something similar, not completely different, but similar.

And you used the experience that you had from your blog, from your travel photography to land these things. And I think something that’s really important to share is that even if you don’t have a degree in this, even if you’ve never taken these really expensive courses, if you just work really hard here, like Natalie, and just do really good work, something can come out of it, right?

And I think that’s really beautiful. And I love when people are like, “I’ve never even gone to school for this. It was just a passion project. And now this is my whole life and it’s my passion.” So that’s incredible.

Natalie:

Yeah.

It takes a lot of practice. I mean, you could say you spend like four years in school learning it, or you could spend four years just out in the field, taking crappy photos and then learning from that and figuring out like, “Why does this photo not look like I want it to?” And then going out again and doing it again and just improving, which is kind of what I did.

I look back at photos like on my Instagram from like a few years ago and I’m like, “Oh God.”

Debbie:

I love that.

And in a lot of ways, honestly, I think that is way more valuable than just going to school, right? Because a lot of the things that you learn in school is just theory. And then once you actually go out in the real world, you understand that it’s not just photography. You have to deal with clients, you have to learn how to negotiate, you have to learn how to do customer service. Like it’s mind-boggling.

Natalie:

That is something I wish I had learned in school – the business end of things. ‘Cause that’s definitely been the harder thing to figure out on the fly.

Debbie:

Yeah.

And I think one thing that a lot of creatives have a really hard time on is the business aspect of it because you love what you’re doing, you’re doing photography. And then all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh crap. I actually have to get paid for this. How do I negotiate my pricing? How do I ask for my money? What do I do?”

Natalie:

Yep.

So that’s actually why I had to bring my husband in to do the business end of things. ‘Cause I get so excited talking to clients and like planning their photoshoot. And then at the end, he’s like, “Oh, so how much are you billing them?” And I was like, “Oh, I forgot to bring that up.” He’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna handle this.”

Debbie:

Your husband’s like, “Okay, you talk about the creative stuff. Then let me go in and talk about the money stuff.”

Natalie:

Yep.

Debbie:

But that’s good. You know your strengths and weaknesses and then you play up on that, which is great. At least you have somebody to play around with that, which is awesome.

Natalie:

Yeah.

It’s definitely good now that I’ve realized there are some things that I’m very good at and then the things that I need to be handled by somebody else.

Debbie:

Yeah, it’s true.

I mean, that’s what I do. There are so many things in my business that I just hate. And then I just hired people to do it because if you don’t like you just mess it up first or just hate doing what you’re doing and you end up not wanting to do what you’re doing because you end up spending all of this time on things that you shouldn’t be doing anyway.

So, hey, if you can afford it, hire it out.

Natalie:

Exactly.

Debbie:

So, Natalie, let’s move forward to about 30 to 40 years from and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you wanna be remembered for?

Natalie:

I want my photos to have made people feel good about themselves and about their businesses and their own legacy.

So I want my photos to be this visual representation of how great the time was in a person’s life. So if I’m taking portraits of people like that memory for them, or if it’s photos for a brand, I want that brand to have these photos to remember as a great time in their business.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Well, that’s one thing that we have is we either have memory or we have photos and videos to kind of remind us of what was in the past, right? And a lot of that we hope is really good. And usually, when we take images, it’s because we really enjoyed that time that we were having.

And that is definitely a great legacy to have and you’re continuing to do it and it seems like you aren’t even there yet. I feel like you have other things that you still haven’t done with your photography and with your content and all of this stuff.

And I think that’s so interesting to have that moment and maybe looking back like 40, 50 years from now, and then you see all the images that you created and what memory it brings you during those times as well.

Well, thank you so much, Natalie, for being here with us today, we really appreciate you. If our listeners wanna learn more about you where can they find you?

Natalie:

So my blog and Instagram are Nattie on the Road and then my photography business is Hi, Ansel. Like, saying hi to a person named Ansel.

Debbie:

I love that.

Ansel is a photographer, right?

Natalie:

Like Ansel Adams?

Yeah. Ansel Adams.

I went to school for photography. So I’m like, “Yeah, that sounds familiar.”

Natalie:

Oh, cool.

Debbie:

I love it.

Well, thanks again, Natalie. We really appreciate you.

Natalie:

Thanks so much.


Listen to Natalie’s extended version where she shares how to take epic travel photos as a beginner.

What you’ll find:

In this episode, Natalie will show you how to take photos when you don’t know where to start.


Follow Natalie:


Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

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